WASHINGTON, USA – The Electoral Observation Mission of the Organization of American States (OAS/EOM) led by the chief of staff of the general secretariat, Gonzalo Koncke, present in the Republic of Suriname for the general elections of May 25 welcomed the democratic commitment exhibited by the citizenry on election day.
The OAS Mission to Suriname – the first EOM deployed in the Americas after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic required an innovative approach. To ensure that it was able to effectively deliver its observation work while taking the special circumstances into account, the OAS employed a two-pronged observation methodology that utilized both virtual engagement with stakeholders prior to its arrival in Paramaribo and more traditional in-person meetings with stakeholders on the ground.
Precautionary measures, which included the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and social distancing, were implemented for all in-person encounters. The OAS Mission complied with all measures required by the government, including two COVID-19 tests for all members of the team. The Mission has now concluded its fieldwork in Suriname and will return to Washington DC.
The Mission recognizes the efforts of the Surinamese authorities to implement precautionary measures within polling stations to protect voters against the transmission of COVID-19, although there are currently no active cases in the country.
These measures included among others, social distancing among the persons authorized to be present, the application of antibacterial spray to the hands of voters entering the polling station, the use of masks and gloves by poll workers and the disinfecting of voting booths after each voter had cast their ballot.
While the Mission commends the Surinamese authorities on their efforts to ensure the health and safety of voters, it notes that difficulties in maintaining these precautionary measures outside of the polling stations themselves, where the movement of persons was difficult to manage. The Mission also notes that although these actions appeared to be adequate in Suriname’s context, they would not be sufficient in another country, with a different case count and where the community spread of COVID-19 is an issue.
On election day, the members of the Mission were present in seven of the country’s ten districts and observed the process from the opening of the polling stations to the tallying and transmission of preliminary results. In all, the Mission visited 96 polling stations in 53 polling centers during the day. Members reported that the polling stations they observed generally opened on time and that all poll workers and materials were present to allow a proper conduct of the poll. Election workers, the majority of whom were women, were diligent in their duties and knowledgeable about the procedures. The Mission commends the electoral authorities, including the poll workers, supervisory personnel, officers of the Independent Electoral Council and police officers who worked long hours to facilitate the conduct of the voting process.
The Mission noted the pause in the unofficial preliminary tabulation process at the ministry of home affairs, at about 10:00 am on the day after the elections, May 26. As a result, political parties and the general public were deprived of information for about seven hours. While ministry officials advised that this was due to the fatigue of the officials processing the results, better planning would have prevented such unfortunate events, which should not happen in an electoral process. Nevertheless, the Mission observed that the processing of the results resumed later that day at the same percentage at which it was suspended (72 percent of Statements of Poll). Although preliminary results have not been finalized, no significant changes in trends have been identified. The Mission remains engaged at the ministry of home affairs.
The Mission has released a preliminary report with its observations and recommendations on key aspects of the electoral process, including electoral organization and technology, electoral justice, political financing and the political participation of women. A final report will be presented to the OAS Permanent Council in Washington, DC and will be shared with all stakeholders in Suriname.
The Mission is grateful to the governments of Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, France, Italy, The Netherlands and the United States for their financial contributions which made this Mission possible.